The Black Hiring Freeze

There is a reason you rarely see black waiters and bartenders in restaurants and bars. It is the result of systemic racism in the restaurant business, even in NYC. Here is one tale:

I was a waitress and floor manager for La Vela on Amsterdam in the UWS. A bartender’s job became available. It was a crappy job b/c it was the day shift and it was never really busy, very few people came to the bar itself during the day, and it was mostly pouring a few wines for the waiters and prepping the bar for the night shift such a stocking the liquor and wines, cutting fruit and stocking glassware.

We received very few responses to our ads and those with experience, once interviewed and hired, quit within a day. I became honest with them about the job b/c why bother wasting everyone’s time? One day a young man, who happened to be black, showed up for an interview. He had just graduated bartender’s school and had no experience. This was a perfect entry level job for him. He could cut his teeth for a few months and then move on to something better. I told him all that including the fact that he would be making only $5 an hour with tips, which weren’t great as it wasn’t busy during the day, but he could occasionally work the night shift when we needed him. He was eager to take the job anyway. I told him to show up the next day wearing a white shirt and black pants, the common uniform for restaurant work. (Every person in the restaurant business knows that.) So he came in the next day and I put him behind the bar to stock glasses when the owner showed up.

The owner happened to be Egyptian which I think is relevant. He took one look at the new bartender and told me to tell him that the job was already taken. I protested b/c it wasn’t but the owner said that there was a certain look for restaurant employees and the new bartender didn’t fit the profile. I knew exactly what he meant. I refused to tell the young man the position was already filled and made the owner tell him. It was crushing for him but also for me. I was so angry that I wanted to quit there and then. I knew that I was a valuable asset to the restaurant and could make this my protest. But I didn’t. Not yet. There was future racist incident later that made me quit but it was another job entirely where I went through something similar and then I threw the keys at the owner and walked out.

I’ll save that story for another day.

35+ years in the service industry. Old, cranky and dissatisfied.